There’s a real sense that Pat Grossi, aka Active Child, has put himself through the relationship ringer for the purpose of creative endeavours on his debut album You Are All I See. Whilst that suggestion is not wholly serious, it gives you an idea of the despair that hangs over many of the songs here. It’s not necessarily a break-up album, more one which symbolises the inability to let go through fear of being alone. Yet Grossi cuts a very lonely figure indeed; damaged from the broken promises made to him by emotional engagement.
Remarks were made that Active Child’s opening salvo, the Curtis Lane EP, had a danceable air to it. However, although big drum hits remain, there’s nothing which inspires you to move your feet here. That’s not meant as any detraction. Instead, a deeper, all-consuming balladry takes hold to smother the listener, which leads to a very personal affair. Grossi stops short of stripping you though, in the way Antony Hegarty and James Blake sometimes can – grandiose company you sense he aspires to be in. He won’t have to wait too long, though.
Take ‘Hanging On’, a remarkably expressive track which has you clawing for your neckline due to the sheer force of it. Its gritted-teeth romanticism would see it dominating radio playlists if there was any justice. You become somewhat thankful for a falsetto-free coda for composure’s sake, such is the grip it exerts. Its immediate emotional potency isn’t particularly representative of You Are All I See as a package, however. In fact, it’s easy to allow it to wash over you before further truly heartfelt moments break the skin. I guess such is the nature of the harp, an exceedingly beautiful-sounding instrument, but one which can switch listeners off in favour of something with more vigour. It also brings with it an air of pretension, a word often used as an attempt to disparage a piece work with only the blurb to go on. All that said, Grossi’s icy-cold, intelligible tones ensure an accessibility which rarely fail to hit the right spots. Perhaps that choirboy falsetto of his is lacking in a second mode at times but it seldom falls short of elegant. His use of the harp is far from a gimmick either, which is instantly obvious from the title-track opener. Streams of harp notes pour down before Grossi steps in to ensure you don’t get wet through.
Wisely, Grossi doesn’t cling to his harp throughout the record, shuffling over to the synthesizer and allowing different moods and textures to reveal themselves. ‘High Priestess’ has you questioning some of those skewed life choices, while ‘Way Too Fast’ makes you want to give up trying to make sound judgements altogether. Initial album teaser ‘Playing House’ acts as a bit of a curveball, with Grossi enlisting the help of How to Dress Well’s Tom Krell and they both sound at their bruised best. R&B has been somewhat scrutinised – for the better one would argue – in the last 12 months as people try to decide on the merits of the ‘said’ artist knowing it perhaps falls outside of their usual comfort zone. Yet, rather inevitably, it’s your instincts that speak with the most clarity and they’re unlikely to deny you here.
There are few tracks which don’t quite resonate time after time. The melodies on ‘Ancient Eye’ for instance don’t really come to a head, whilst ‘Shield & Sword’ departs with the organic charm that glues the record together. But more often than not You Are All I See sinks its teeth in where it hurts. Choral closer ‘Johnny Belinda’ swells to remarkable effect and delivers with a devastating pay-off to swallow up all that has gone before it. It marks a terrifically ambitious debut record; one which displays a rather unsettling sense of despondency but evades being negatively dragged down by it.
You Are All I See is out now in the United States, it will be released in the UK and Europe on October 24.